Pain is the most uncomfortable sensation that we all try to avoid – think tooth ache, ear ache, torn knee ligaments, back ache, post-surgical pain… If you’ve ever experienced one of these, and chances are pretty good you have experienced more than one, it can be very difficult to function normally. Getting on with your day, even if you’re in a mild state of discomfort can be challenging, never mind if you’re in excruciating pain. Animals experience pain in much the same way as we do – the pain receptors, neuron pathways and pain centres in the brain are all pretty similar to ours. So why do we sometimes find it hard to evaluate whether a pet is in pain or not? After all, they can’t tell us “It hurts here!”


Well, in actual fact, therein lies the clue: pets do tell us when they’re in pain. The subtle changes in their behaviour are the indicators that they are in pain. These changes include: not getting up to run around; a reluctance to play; resistance to jumping up or down off furniture; a decreased appetite; very carefully lying down or standing up; becoming grumpy or snappy when touched. Very often, we just don’t notice these early signs and will often dismiss them by thinking “she’s just getting old”.


The fact about severe pain is that if left untreated, it can spiral into ‘wind-up pain’ where all the nerves become hypersensitised and normal sensations like touch, warmth and cold are interpreted by the brain as extremely painful. In this scenario, pain can become very difficult to control. More generally, pain can cause a loss of function, for example an older pet that has mild arthritis, becomes more painful in cold weather, moves around less and so uses its joints less. This in turn leads to further arthritis and even less mobility. Pain also leads to uncharacteristic changes in behaviour: ask any parent of an otherwise healthy baby suffering from an ear infection whether the baby is happy or not, and the general reply will be “He cried all night!” Similarly, in pets, an untreated ear infection can be extremely painful and a normally placid dog becomes grumpy and snappy when touched on the head…


So, when thinking about painful conditions and trying to help our pets feel more comfortable with an improved quality of life, we naturally have to consider how we can alleviate that pain, whilst reducing the potential side effects of some medications. Fortunately these days we have a number of different options available to reduce discomfort and pain. Here are some of the different options your vet may advise you on depending on your pet’s condition and general health:

  • Supplements:

Much like eating a well balanced diet helps humans stay healthy and active, the same applies to our pets. As the knowledge of nutrition has improved and science has forged ahead, we’ve found that there are certain groups of nutrients that are particularly helpful in promoting healing and reducing inflammation. Omega 3 Fatty Acids, especially those from marine sources, are effective at reducing inflammation in several organ systems including the musculoskeletal (think arthritis), skin (think allergy related dermatitis), heart health (think reduced LDLs) and the brain (think reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Dementia). Chondroitin Sulphate and Glucosamine are other supplements which help improve joint health and so reduce pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Other prescription supplements may be given as injectables, for example Cartrophen injections. Cartrophen is a Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Drug (DMOAD), used in dogs and horses for arthritis relief: it enables the cartilage cells to ‘switch on’ and start healing damaged cartilage, reduce inflammation, improve joint fluid viscosity which all result in reduced pain. The advantage of using supplements at recommended doses, is that there are very few, if any, side effects; they’re often relatively cheap; and they’re usually easy to administer.

  • Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs):

These are prescription medications that are used to reduce pain by reducing the associated inflammation. They work by blocking some of the enzymes and intermediate molecules involved in the inflammatory pathway which leads to the body perceiving a stimulus as painful. Some of the specially formulated veterinary medications include meloxicam, carprofen, firocoxib and robenacoxib. NSAIDs that are registered for use in animals are safe to use in pets provided their liver and kidney function is normal. NSAIDs like Ibuprofen or Aspirin or Paracetamol are NOT safe for pets – do NOT use them! As with using these types of medications in humans, there can be some side effects like: upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhoea, dark stools, increased risk of bleeding because of reduced clotting. If any side effects develop, you should seek veterinary attention. As already mentioned, these medications affect kidney and liver function and should be used with caution in pets with reduced kidney and liver function. These medications are very helpful in controlling pain associated with arthritis, traumatic injuries like bites, post-operative pain control and other inflammatory conditions.

  • Pain Killers:

These prescription medications are used to control the animal’s perception of pain. In other words, they stop the pain message from reaching the brain. They are effective at improving a patient’s quality of life and reducing their discomfort where other medications have not been effective at controlling the pain or cannot be used because of other health conditions. Not all of these medications are safe to use in all pets, i.e. some are safe to use in pets with kidney disease whilst others are not. Some may have side effects in certain individuals e.g. they may be drowsy, so it’s important to discuss any adverse reactions or changes in your pet’s behaviour with your vet.


There are other measures that can be adopted to help our pets reduce pain. These may include: losing excess weight, wearing a little jumper in winter, building a ramp for an old pet to climb up and down will allow them to be a lot more comfortable. Getting pets checked early, regularly and routinely means that you will avoid a lot of pain and discomfort for your pet by getting preventative health care in place. If you are concerned about your pet’s level of comfort, you should always seek veterinary advice first before trying any supplements or medications. Your vet will be best able to advise on your particular pet’s needs and the most suitable medications for him or her.


If you have any questions or suspect that your pet may be in pain, please get in touch: or 0481 527 678. We’ll be happy to help you and your pet feel more comfortable!